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The Difference Between Hip-Hop and Rap

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In normal everyday language, hip-hop and rap have become synonymous – referring to the Black American musical art form that developed in 1970s New York.

But they’re not synonymous. Rap is, in fact, part of a wider culture known as Hip-Hop.

As KRS-One put it, “Rap is something you do. Hip-Hop is something you live.”

In this article, let’s talk about the difference between Hip-Hop and Rap.

If you’re interested in learning how to rap, definitely check out our beginner’s guide afterwards.

What is Rap

Rap is a rhythmic form of rhyming and story-telling that has it’s roots in the toasting of Jamaican sound system culture, and even further back to African oral tradition.

At Jamaican parties, there was a tradition of someone skilled with words chanting over a beat played by the DJ as a way to express thoughts in an interesting way and help keep the party upbeat.

DJ Kool Herc, the man most cited as the “founder” of Hip-Hop, was born in Jamaica. While living in Bronx, New York he would throw block parties that would lay the foundations of the culture that would soon take over the globe.

Over the decades, Rap would become one of the most dominant musical genres in the world. And that’s where the distinction is most important:

Rap is the music. Hip-Hop is the culture that birthed it.



What is Hip-Hop

So then, if Hip-Hop birthed rap… What exactly is Hip-Hop culture?

The culture, like KRS said, is a way of being in the world. It has to do with style, art, expression, language, and everything else a culture encompasses.

The defining elements of Hip-Hop culture, however, lie in it’s artistic expression – consisting of 4 intertwined elements:

  1. DJing
  2. MCing
  3. Break Dancing
  4. Grafitti

DJing is where it all started. Where a “disc jockey” would rock a party with a pair of turntables, a mixer and a crate full of records.

Over time, DJs would become acutely aware of the parts of a song that would get people dancing the most. These would often be the “breakbeats” (the short drum solo break in the middle of a song).


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Using two separate turntables with the same record on both allowed the DJ to extend that short break, by playing it back to back, over and over again.

Eventually, this led to the rise of “break” dancers (B-Boys and B-Girls) who would compete with each other during the extended drum breaks, and “masters of ceremonies” (MCs, i.e. rappers) who would boast using rhymes over the beats being played.

Grafitti was the way the visual artists in the impoverished inner-cities expressed their craft – painting intricate murals on buildings, trains and other surfaces using spray paint and “tagging” it with their monikers.

These all became competitive crafts and outlets for people who didn’t have many resources, because the human spirit finds ways to thrive creatively, no matter what.

Eventually this culture built upon itself, enticing and inviting in everyone that it came into contact with. It birthed a new wave of clothing, language, style, demeanour, events, politics, food and much more.


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The Distinction

It may not seem like a big deal to just use the terms Hip-Hop and Rap interchangeably, and you might be right.

But it is important to remember the roots and foundations of what we’re talking about. And Hip-Hop lives beyond the music it helped create.

It’s a way of being in this world.

And as Rap music has become one of the most dominate music genres in the world, Hip-Hop as a culture continues to thrive and captivate millions around the globe – including every one of it’s 4 elements.

If you are ready to get your music out there to the world, I highly recommend you use Tunecore – they’re an affordable way to release unlimited music to Spotify, Apple Music, Tidal and more.

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    Omar Zulfi

    Omar Zulfi is a music producer, rapper, singer, songwriter and digital entrepreneur. He is the founder and head writer at Deviant Noise. Learn more about what he's doing by clicking here.